God, Take Me Instead

Concluding my observations from C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed (see it here in Goodreads)Click here to read the previous thought.

When I first started listening to country music in the 1990’s, one of my favorite songs was Don’t Take the Girl by Tim McGraw. I liked it because it talked about chivalry and a young man protecting his girlfriend during a robbery. But the third verse, starting at 2:43 in the video below, is the best part. In it, the couple are now married but the wife is dying due to complications during childbirth. The husband pleads to God to take him instead because of his love for her.

This isn’t some new kind of thought; I think in a case of true love, many a times has one person wanted to trade places with a loved one who is suffering or in pain. C.S. Lewis, in his account of his wife’s battle with cancer, wrote about this thought in A Grief Observed (44).

And then one babbles–‘If only I could bear it, or the worst of it, or any of it, instead of her.’ But one can’t tell how serious that bid is, for nothing is staked on it. If it suddenly became a real possibility, then, for the first time, we should discover how seriously we had meant it. But is it ever allowed?

Because of sin, both original sin and our individual sin, this world is cursed and sufferings have, and will continue to, come. Because of sin, we have an eternal punishment awaiting us. But the Good News is that Jesus paid the price for our sin in our stead. He is the only One to whom it was allowed to take the place of another so that we would not need to suffer eternally.  As Lewis writes:

It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done. He replies to our babble, ‘You cannot and you dare not. I could and dared.’

And yet, we still suffer not only physical trials but also emotional, psychological, or spiritual trials. Truly, although I wish I could take the suffering for my beloved wife, I cannot and I must not because there is a purpose for God allowing these things to happen in our lives. Lewis writes regarding trials in our lives (52):

But of course one must take ‘sent to try us’ the right way. God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.

And so, when faced with a loved one’s suffering and pain, we must ever remember that God has allowed this, not because God is a cosmic sadist, but because He loves us more than we could love Him or another person. The suffering and pain will come, but it can be used to build us up. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (3b-5 NKJV)

Good God or Cosmic Sadist?

Continuing with some observations from C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed (see it here in Goodreads). Click here to read the first part.

Oftentimes when someone is facing the uncertain future at life’s end, thoughts of eternity arise. This is especially true if the person is suffering from a debilitating disease or cancer. Thoughts begin to wander and people start to wonder what kind of God would allow this kind of suffering. Wouldn’t it be better to just help this person die through physician-assisted suicide or maybe even euthanize this person if he cannot do it himself?

Lewis wrote this while mourning his wife’s death from cancer (42ff):

But oh God, tenderly, tenderly. Already, month by month and week by week you broke her body on the wheel whilst she still wore it. Is it not yet enough?

The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed–might grow tired of his vile sport–might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.

Many persons, including Christians, wonder how can a good God allow one of His own to suffer so much; many persons, including Christians, determine that God is nothing more than, in Lewis’ words, a Cosmic Sadist; and many persons, including Christians, conclude that if this is who God is, then they don’t want anything to do with God. They judge God harshly through the enormity of their pain or grief, missing what Lewis comes to understand, that there is something to our benefit in that same pain or grief or suffering; a suffering that although may bring tears to God’s eyes, He allows, because “every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2b NKJV).

Click here to read my concluding thoughts on from this book.

Man Does Not Know His Time — Jack Kevorkian

On June 3, 2011, Jack Kevorkian died of natural causes. He is best known for promoting assisted suicide and his claims to have helped over 130 people to end their lives. In an interview last year, Kevorkian stated that he had no regrets, How can you regret helping a suffering patient?

During his years at medical school, Kevorkian was promoting a utilitarian view of human life as he advocated for allowing murderers on death row a choice to die by anesthesia thus allowing their bodies to be used for medical experiments or organ donation (see NY Times article). His utilitarian view served as the foundation for why he viewed death as a help to a suffering patient. Never mind that suffering is totally subjective and that anyone, at any time, could say that they are suffering too much and wished to die. Rather than offering hope, love and care, Kevorkian only offered death as a solution to pain and suffering.

In today’s world, society tells us that it’s okay to look at someone who is suffering or in pain, shake our heads and say “wouldn’t it be better if we could just end this suffering?” Kevorkian’s promotion of assisted suicide, and even euthanasia, led people only to despair…the despair of thinking there is nothing of value to their lives and that they are a burden to their families, friends, and caregivers.

But there is a different way. We are admonished to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”  (Galatians 6:2 NKJV). We can help those who are suffering know that they are not alone, that someone does care for and love them. Rather than confirm someone’s fear that they are no longer “useful” to us by helping them kill themselves, we ought to reaffirm that they are valuable and valued. By selflessly bearing one another’s burdens, we fulfill Christ’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 NKJV).

Maybe it’s just me, but…rather than do what Kevorkian did, that is, help or encourage people who are facing seemingly insurmountable pain or suffering kill themselves, or kill them directly at their request, we ought to help someone through their suffering. We can walk beside them and show them that all human life is precious and valuable no matter what age the person is, what condition the body may be in, or what stage of development that human life has reached. Even more importantly, we ought lead them to the one true hope we have, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

May God have mercy on your soul, Dr. Kevorkian.

“But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand.” Psalm 31:14-15 (NKJV)